"Probably the best use of federal funds" to improve science
and math education is to sponsor "training for the teachers we
already have in classrooms, and just as importantly, for pre-service
teachers." This comment by Joyce Dodd, a sixth grade math teacher
at the Bryson Middle School in South Carolina, reflected the consensus
of the Presidential Awardees for Excellence in Mathematics and Science
Teaching who testified before the House Science Committee on April 14.
Joining Dodd at the witness table were Cynthia Cliche, a first grade
math teacher at Homer Pittard Campus School, TN; Cassandra Barnes, a
third grade math teacher at Oregon Trail Elementary School, OR; Lonna
Sanderson, a third grade science teacher at Will Davis Elementary School,
TX; and Pita Martinez-McDonald, a fourth-grade science teacher at Cuba
Elementary School, NM.
Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) opened the hearing by stating
that "there is no issue within our jurisdiction that I care about
more deeply than science and math education, especially at the pre-college
level. And I suspect that every one of my colleagues...would say the
same thing." He was seconded by Ranking Minority Member Bart Gordon
(D-TN), who wanted to know what it would take "to replicate your
success and increase your numbers?" Gordon pointed out that the
Administration's FY 2006 budget request "contemplates a significant
reduction" in NSF's science education programs.
The witnesses, recipients of the 2004 presidential awards, agreed that
children learn science and math best when encouraged to be "active
learners," working with hands-on materials and discovering concepts
for themselves. "Students must learn science by doing science,"
said Sanderson. However, the witnesses commented that many teachers
at the elementary and middle school level are not comfortable teaching
math and science, and lack training in how to instruct in a way that
fosters active learning. Unless exposed to and trained in such teaching
methods, Dodd said, "we all tend to teach the way we were taught."
She stated that higher education institutions should take greater responsibility
for ensuring that future teachers receive sufficient math and science
content knowledge, and that the instruction in their college courses
mirrors the "best practices" that they will be expected to
use in their own classrooms.
"Professional development needs to be encouraged and funded for
all teachers," Cliche remarked, but "it is often extremely
difficult for teachers to obtain the funding to attend" professional
development conference, seminars, and other opportunities. "If
the federal government wants to take steps to improve math and science
education for our children," Barnes added, it needs to "focus
its energy and resources on providing high-quality professional development
for our teachers."
The witnesses commented that in elementary and middle school classrooms,
teachers often leave math, and particularly science, for the end of
the day, resulting in insufficient time for hands-on activities and
experimentation by students. They also pointed to a frequent lack of
funding for supplies, "manipulatives," and technologies to
support active learning in classrooms. "Give teachers the...supplies
they need, give teachers and students access to technology, and give
teachers the training they need" to learn how to effectively teach
science, said Sanderson.
Effective professional development "takes time," Barnes pointed
out, and involves trying out techniques in the classroom, assessing
and reflecting on the results, and discussing them with colleagues.
"Drive-by workshops" of one-day duration "are not the
answer," said Martinez-McDonald.
The math teachers at the witness table praised the programs, seminars,
materials and conferences sponsored by the National Council of Teachers
of Mathematics (http://www.nctm.org/)
for contributing to their success. NSF's efforts in curriculum development
and teacher training, including the Rural Systemic Initiatives, were
also commended, and Martinez-McDonald praised NASA for its on-line astronomy
Before the hearing, at a breakfast honoring the presidential awardees,
Boehlert mentioned his cosponsorship of a bill that would forgive student
loan interest for students pursuing careers in science, math and engineering,
or in teaching these subjects. The "Math and Science Incentive
Act of 2005" (H.R. 1547) would create a new program at the Education
Department under which the government would pay interest on a student
loan if the student then devoted five years to a profession in science,
math, or engineering, including teaching those subjects. The bill "will
enable scholarships to be focused on careers for which there is the
greatest national need at any particular time," Boehlert said,
"and it should increase the focus of the Department of Education
on science, math and engineering." The House bill was sponsored
by Rep. Frank Wolfe (R-VA), with Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Virgil
Goode (R-VA) as additional cosponsors. It has been referred to the House
Committee on Education and the Workforce. In the Senate, a companion
bill (S. 765) has been introduced by Sen. John Warner (R-VA), with Sens.
Daniel Akaka (D-HI), George Allen (R-VA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) as
cosponsors, and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions.
Selected portions of Boehlert's April 14 speech to the presidential
teaching awardees will be provided in FYI #60.